Saturday, April 11, 2015

Stephen King: The Colorado Kid (2005)

This short novel (163 pages) is a paperback original from Hard Case Crime, a small publisher specializing in both old and new hardboiled crime novels.

From the original press release:
"Steve is an extraordinary writer, and as much a fan of classic paperback crime fiction as we are," said Charles Ardai, Hard Case Crime's editor. "We originally contacted him to see if he'd be willing to write a blurb for our line, and he decided that what he really wanted to do was write a book for us instead. We're thrilled that he wanted to be part of Hard Case Crime and we're very excited to get to introduce the world to the baffling mystery of The Colorado Kid."

"This is an exciting line of books," Stephen King commented, "and I'm delighted to be a part of it. Hard Case Crime presents good, clean, bare-knuckled storytelling, and even though The Colorado Kid is probably more bleu than outright noir, I think it has some of those old-fashioned kick-ass story-telling virtues. It ought to; this is where I started out, and I'm pleased to be back."
The Colorado Kid is hyped on the back cover as an "investigation into the unknown", a story "about the darkness at the heart of the unknown and our compulsion to investigate the unexplained", a tale "whose subject is nothing less than the nature of mystery itself". That's giving this thin story far more credit than it deserves.

Oldtimers Dave Bowie and Vince Teague run the small newspaper serving the seaside community of Moose-Lookit, Maine. Stephanie, who is from Ohio, is an intern they have hired for the summer. As the book begins, a writer for the Boston Globe has asked around for any information for a series of articles on "unexplained events" in New England, but he has left empty-handed. Stephanie, knowing the two men have been in the news business for decades, says they must have heard of something strange and "unexplained" over the years.

Instead of a straight story, we hear about the tale of the Colorado Kid as remembered by the two men, who stop periodically so they and Stephanie can talk about various aspects of the tale. Dave and Vince insist that there really is no "story", nothing with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end. That's what newspapers want and that's why this tale is no good for the Globe.

One morning in 1980, a pair of teenagers discover an unidentified dead man on the beach. It is later determined that he choked to death on a piece of food. He is not identified and nothing much happens until about 16 months later, when a young man who had been working with the two detectives assigned to the case, has a flashback to the tax stamp on the bottom of the unknown man's pack of cigarettes. It turns out the stamp says "Colorado".

Dave and Vince mail a copy of the man's picture, taken shortly after he was discovered on the beach, to 78 newspapers in Colorado. In short order, they hear from a woman named Arla Cogen, who turns out to be the man's wife/widow. She gives the two newspapermen details about James Cogan's life (including the fact that he was never a smoker). Her information raises several questions: How did Cogan get from Denver to a small coastal Maine town in only a few hours on the day he died? And why? And what's up with the pack of cigarettes?

Dave, Vince, and Stephanie run through several possibilities, teasing each one out, trying to construct a probable narrative. But the truth cannot be known in this case - and guesswork is as far as they get. And this is also as far as King gets. The book ends with the Kid's appearance and death just as shrouded in mystery as before.

In an afterword, King acknowledges that readers will either love or hate the story. "Mystery is my subject here," he writes. "I'm really not interested in the solution but the mystery." King can count me among those who did not like the story - or thought that there wasn't enough of a story to like or not like. When King was producing his best work, he likely would have realized TCK was going nowhere and simply filed it away. Or, if he was intent on exploring the essence of mystery, he would have come up with a more engaging premise. We are told several times how excited and intrigued Stephanie is by this mystery, but we never get that feeling ourselves.

Also, King's use of Maine slang/dialect gets in the way of the story's flow. The two newspaper men repeatedly say "Ayuh" and "Gorry!", drop the "g"s from the end of words, and often remind themselves (and us) that Stephanie is "from away" (i.e., not a local). King did a masterful job capturing an authentic Maine voice in Dolores Claibourne, but he strikes out here. King even interrupts the storytelling to explain that "fair" is pronounced fay-yuh, "bury" rhymes with furry, and dinnah is the meal you eat around noon time.

Next: Cell.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Death Merchant #43: The Devil's Trashcan

News flash from The Devil's Trashcan: Richard Camellion was once married!

Through 42 titles, Joseph Rosenberger has provided next-to-nothing about his hero's background. From scattered scraps gathered from the earlier books, we know Camellion is originally from St. Louis where he was a high-school teacher. In #43, Rosenberger drops the bombshell, when Camellion remarks, "A wedding is really a funeral where you get to smell your own flowers. I tried marriage once. I almost had a nervous breakdown from boredom." (But, sadly, Rosenberger provides no additional information.)

"The Devil's Trashcan" is the nickname Rosenberger has given to Lake Toplitz in the Totes Gebirge (Dead Mountains) of Austria. He describes it as a "dark and sinister body of water".

In the final days of World War II, Nazi leaders allegedly sunk waterproof metal cases in the lake. According to Wikipedia, "Millions of counterfeit pound sterling notes (£100+ million) were dumped in the lake after Operation Bernhard, which was never fully put into action. There is speculation that there might be other valuables to be recovered from the bottom of the Toplitzsee." In addition to possible treasure, Rosenberger suggests there could be documents exposing some world leaders as former Nazi collaborators. There have been actual dives made over the decades, one as recently as 2005. Last year, the nephew of senior Nazi SS officer Ernst Kaltenbrunner (a character in The Devil's Trashcan) stated, "I can guarantee there is a lot of gold and vast treasures inside."

There are not too many plot twists in The Devil's Trashcan. It's all a matter of driving to the lake and getting to work. Which also means that there are minimal gunfights. There is a perfunctory ambush of the Death Merchant's caravan, but after that there's only the big, book-ending battle with Odessa, a group of ex-SS men who want to reclaim the buried cases. During the fight, Rosenberger mentions in one sentence that Camellion killed nine men by various means, and still provides nine pages of hand-to-hand combat. We get a steady dose of Yon Hon Nukite spears, Sangdon Chirugi punches, Hiju Uke elbow blocks, and plenty of Shuto chops. We even get "a right Chungdon Sudo Yop Taerigi middle knife hand side strike"! Yow!

Because of the lack of action, Rosenberger spends dozens of pages painstakingly going through the planning and preparation for the dive, giving readers way too much information about diving depths, decompression chambers, minutia about the construction of the diving platform, background information on the various Nazis, etc. Because the main characters are often sitting around, there are several discussions, similar to the political conversations in the previous book, High Command Murder. It's the usual stuff about the degradation of American society, which is blamed (mostly) on immigrants. I don't agree with these sentiments, but I find their existence fascinating. There is no reason to have them in any of these books; they are not germane to the plots in any way. Plus, they are often awkwardly stuck into conversations, offtopic and unprovoked. (Did other action-adventure authors include similar pontificating in their books?)

For example, the Austrians ask Camellion where he calls home. The Death Merchant says simply, "Home is wherever I happen to be." But it's obvious that he's an American.
A sly glint crept into the eyes of Gerhart Kausch who was sitting to Camellion's left. "I should think our American friends would be happier in this part of the world than in their own United States," he said with deceptive gentleness. "Most European news magazines are in agreement that American society is becoming more mongrelized. Your government lets in 150,000 Cubans and blacks from Haiti, not to mention a few hundred rice farmers from southeast Asia, all of whom breed faster than rats." He laughed harshly. "If the American government doesn't change its ridiculous policy, twenty years from now the trash on welfare will outnumber the hard-working European-Americans supporting them with their tax dollars."

Franz Ritter, on the sofa across from Camellion, chimed in happily.

"Everyone agrees that Castro made a fool out of President Carter, whose refugee policy was costly, unrealistic, a spit in the face of the American unemployed, and gave the whole world a big laugh. And if our own intelligence reports are correct, Castro intends to swamp the United States with another hundred-thousand of his scum to relieve chronically disastrous and rapidly worsening economic conditions in Cuba. Frankly we Europeans find it all very amusing. Now the North Vietnamese and Castro have fifth columns in the U.S. - all of them disguised as economic refugees."
Camellion is usually quick to correct anyone - and sounds like a smug, know-it-all in the process (even his friend Vallie West (who has come out of retirement) feels like slugging him in annoyance at times), but all he does here is make a joke about what an "unrealistic idiot" Carter was for trusting "the Soviet pig farmers". But then a CIA case officer takes offense to blaming Carter. "You should have mentioned that any bill the President might want can be vetoed by Congress. I suggest you put the situation in perspective and quit putting all the blame on any President." Camellion, in an apparent contradiction from his attitude on the previous page, has these internal thoughts:
Right on, Junior! Right on! The hell of it is that Blotz and the two krauts are right. Our transport protection system is ripped apart. Our borders are indefensible. Our weather is being tampered with by the pig farmers. We're at the mercy of the Arab blanket riders and doing nothing about our national defense. Our measuring system is all that's holding us together. Convert to total metric - which is another ripoff and the product of Washington paperpushers - and the world will swallow us alive in one gulp.
WTF? The avoidance of the metric system is the only thing that is saving the United States from total collapse?!?!? Hoooo kay ...

Elsewhere in the book, Camellion explains that thanks to affirmative action, "if a white American even whispers that any Black is less than perfect, he's labelled a racist." ... He refers to Koreans as "pajama clad gooks". ... Camellion also offers his informed opinion on the inevitability of an imminent third World War. Camellion's words are chilling to Vallie West because he knows that "Camellion had a track record of being right."
"This war you spoke about," Duckworth said. "Why all the concern, if we Americans and the Chinese are going to annihilate the Soviets?"

"I didn't tell you the rest of the sad tale," Camellion said. "After the Russians are destroyed, the Red Chinese will sweep across Asia into Europe. With that will come the total destruction of the United States - a full-scale nuclear war. History will sweep the world clean and the survivors will begin all over again. It's all part of a cycle. It has happened before. It will happen again."
Camellion, a serious misanthrope with few kind words for anyone, chides mankind for killing defenseless animals. After a shootout, someone remarks that now "there's a little less evil in the world, not much less, but a tiny bit less".
The Death Merchant, reloading the AMPS did not reply. Damned little! Even the "nice people" are ruthless savages. Sixteen million cats and dogs will be put to death this year because nobody wants them. A hundred and eighty thousand baby seals will be clubbed to death - and many skinned while still alive - this year, simply because they have beautiful fur! To hell with the human race!
In addition to discovering the one-time existence of a Mrs. Camellion, we learn a bit more about the DM: He drinks "carrot juice laced with Deidesheim, a rich German wine" and "ice coffee laced with a jigger of brandy". We learn what some of his vitamins are: choline and procaine. (Why would Camellion take an anaesthetic, often used by dentists?)

Vallie West has fought alongside Camellion several times over the years, but the Death Merchant remains a stranger:
West gave Camellion a long, speculative look. There was never any way to glean a clue of Camellion's thoughts. His body language was always mute and his expression usually inscrutable. Vallie often sensed that he really didn't know Camellion. He never had. Neither did anyone else. The Death Merchant had always been totally self-contained, a man who needed no one, a man who loved no one, a man who was a stranger to his own species; and maybe that was the way it should be.
And even for a supposed friend of the Death Merchant, the mysterious Camellion can be too much:
There were times when West felt like belting Camellion in the mouth. Rick was too intensely analytical, his mind too probing. Too damned intellectual! Vallie told himself. Superstition? Vallie thought of the time he had visited Camellion's Memento Mori Ranch in the Big Thicket region of southeastern Texas. Never again! During the week too many mysterious things happened. Vallie had heard strange noises in the night . . . subtle whispering, and shadows, caught for only a moment from the corner of the eye, shadows that didn't behave like shadows. Vallie was positive that Camellion dabbled in certain ancient and secret sciences. He didn't know what these sciences were, nor did he want to know.
West shares Camellion's avoidance of curses, exclaiming "Hippo crud!" and "Crocodile crap!" on two occasions. Also, here are these three wisecracks that West and Camellion yell at various Nazis before sending them into the blackness of eternity:
"Take a slow bus to Disneyland, you dip-stick dummy!"

"You should drink buffalo scrotum wine, boob-boy!"

"You're a piece of dirty trash. Your mother was a slut and your father was a growth of slime from a dung heap. What are you going to do about it, you son of a diseased bedbug?"
An interesting final note. During a conversation with Camellion, West remarks:
He reminds me of a joker I know back in the States. Hell, if you say "Good Morning" to Rupt Rosenberger, he'd end up giving you a national weather report.
Is "Rupt Rosenberger" meant to be author Joseph Rupert Rosenberger?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Death Merchant #42: High Command Murder

The set-up: Towards the end of World War II, a group of American soldiers under General Patton's command stole 100 crates of Nazi gold bars and, with the assistance of members of the French resistance, hid the gold in an abandoned mine shaft in northern France.

The Nazi treasure has been hidden for nearly 40 years, but information about its existence recently came to light thanks to an interview by one of the Frenchmen. He was soon found dead. Now several groups of French terrorists, an association of ex-SS men, and the CIA are in a frantic race to find the gold, now worth upwards of $500 million.

But even before the story begins, we get a unique dedication from author Joseph Rosenberger: "To the best friend humanity will ever have - the Cosmic Lord of Death." (Also, Pinnacle changed to a different (and less appealing, to me, at least) cover layout with High Command Murder, published in December 1980. Dean Cate is still doing the artwork.)

Richard Camellion begins his work in Paris, meeting with members of the ARC (Action pour la Renaissance de la Corse). The CIA says they will pay the ARC $5 million for its assistance in finding the gold, and the group believes it has discovered another man who helped hide the gold and that he may be willing to talk. Camellion is forced to work what he terms a terrorist organization because the other group looking for the gold is Odessa, a group of ex-Nazis who have thrown in with the FLB, who are also trying to find any Frenchmen who assisted the American gold thieves).

Before that, though, the Death Merchant has to fight his way out of a gunfight at a safe house in Montmartre. (Rosenberger provides nice descriptions of both Saint-Villeneuve and Montmartre.) After escaping the mayhem, they drive to Place de la Concorde and meet three ARC members, who they take to another Parisian safe house. Their next move is a long drive to Lamballe to meet the top leaders of the ARC. (The town is frequently misspelled Laballe in the book.)

The 250+-mile drive - which for some reason is spread out over two whole days - gives Rosenberger the opportunity to have the eight passengers engage in wide-ranging political discussions, always voicing right-wing opinions. The narrator - speaking from Camellion's point of view - notes:
[T]here is an international group of power brokers working toward a one-world government.

The evidence was all there, particularly in the new patterns in political corruption and subversion affecting the United States and its Western allies. Bribery of elected and appointed government officials with money, gifts and sex had long been a staple of American political life. A sizable minority had been for sale to the highest bidder, as proved by the FBI's ABSCAM operation. In the past that bidder had been American-based corporations, labor unions, wealthy families and other well-heeled groups with interests to serve and money to spend.

Camellion's face became hard, ruthless. But now, the rise of international corporations has led to a situation where American politicians are now being bought to protect interests that are outside the U.S. and are seldom compatible with the voters. Analyses of political trends show that multinational corporations operating at the level of the Trilateral commission believe national governments are obsolete and cannot be trusted to create a stable world order. This loose international group, based in the USA, Europe and Japan, will attempt to handpick all party candidates for president, prime minister, etc. - Dummies who can be manipulated toward international ends. While the taxpayer is still saddled with the enormous expense of a feeble bureaucracy, every attempt will be made to condition the voter that the government is powerless to act decisively. This will preserve cushy political jobs and ensure support from those in office. What a setup! The present coalition of blacks, women, homosexuals, and all the rest of the minority crap is over fifty percent, and will keep this disaster going for years. Only at the ballot box can this trend be reversed. But it won't. The average voter is too damned stupid to realize that all current officeholders should be voted out, regardless of party.

Personally, the Death Merchant didn't give a damn. In his opinion, the whole human race was just one big pack of savages - Too bad a cosmic Hitler can't wipe out all three billion of them.
So even though Camellion's face turns hard and ruthless as he ponders these thoughts, he actually doesn't care at all? That seems odd. And the ballot box is supposedly the answer, yet the people running for election are being handpicked by the international ruling group, which would seem to make voting irrelevant, so ...

Then, two pages later, after someone refers to the French people as "a bunch of lice" that couldn't hang onto Vietnam, Camellion (who is using the alias Leonard Kidd) notes: "We didn't do so well in Vietnam ourselves."
Jordan glanced at the Death Merchant and grinned. The dour Gerstung [a CIA agent] was not amused. "Remind me to laugh in the year 2000," he growled. "We lost in 'Nam for the same reason we're losing everywhere else in the world. Because of the greedy politicians, the moronic do-gooders and the half-witted unrealists who refuse to see the handwriting on the wall. Screw the American government. It's composed of idiots, traitors, gun-grabbing hypocrites and first-class swine. Fuck the American government ten times over." ...

[Jordan pipes in:] "Did you know that there are more than fifty Soviet-backed 'front' committees operating in Washington? And the majority are located on the one hundred block of Maryland Avenue in Capitol Hill. Most are funded from U.S. taxpayers' dollars through 'study grants' procured by witting and unwitting dupes in Congress. Systematically, their propaganda and lobby efforts - and many of these organizations are allied with the anti-gun groups and would dearly love to see all of America totally disarmed - attack the FBI and the Company for 'civil-rights violations and invasions.'"

Gerstung, who had just taken a slug of wine, belched loudly. "I'll tell you something, Kidd. If you think we in the Company have it rough, you should see what those poor bastards in the FBI have to contend with. The commie front people scream like hell about 'civil-rights violations' every time a poor fed questions one of the slime balls about a federal crime; then the media picks it up and the feds get another black eye." ...

The realistic Death Merchant, who couldn't have cared less about American sheep and their Judas shepherds in D.C., changed the subject ....
Again, the Death Merchant supposedly cannot be bothered with these thoughts. However, in most other books, he often leads these types of discussions.

After having fought an ambush along the way, the group reaches their destination. The ARC states that it knows one of the men who helped hide the gold, a man named Philippe Castile. The location is deep in an abandoned mine shaft near Saint-Brieuc. (As it turns out, the Odessa/FLB team is also converging on the site of the mine.)

The Death Merchant's group finds the gold - behind several walls of rock and wood - and hauls it up. They are in the process of loading it onto boats to take out to a submarine when the Odessa/FLB team arrives at the beach. A fierce shootout ensures, and Camellion and the ARC prevail.

There are two other subplots mentioned a few times in the book: the possible murder of Patton by his own troops because he found out about the gold heist and disapproved and a cryptic comment made by Castile. Rosenberger does not return to these story strands at the end of the book.

Regardless, High Command Murder is well-paced, though I miss the goofiness of the first 20 books (or so) of the series. And once again, of more interest to me than the main plot are Rosenberger's odd turns of phrase and his political/social offshoots.

Camellion talks some more about being able to see people's auras and, judging by what colour they are, knowing if they are going to die soon or not. (Black is a bad colour!) As one footnote states: "The human aura can be seen with a photomultiplier tube under certain conditions. Psychics can see the human aura with the 'mind's eye.' So can men and women who have lived very close to death." (I presume Camellion falls under that final category.)

Etc.:

"And Grojean, he's so paranoid about security, he's more close-mouthed than a clam with lockjaw."

"This is about as bad as trying to plow a potato field with a dull-bladed plow."

"[E]veryone - except Camelllion - was, nonetheless, surprised with the suddenness of the assault when it did come. The Death Merchant wouldn't have been amazed is Adolf Hitler had pedaled by on a tricycle."

"It was the same with Jordan and Capeau, slugs buzzing around them like bees enraged with bronchitis."

"Those morons in England are so dumb they think the Bermuda Triangle is a musical instrument."

"What we need is a rabbit's foot, but not the kind that was carried by General Custer."

"If I wanted to talk to a fruitcake, I could have gone to a bakery!"

"I'll be a jackass on rollerskates! ... If I had half the sense of a moronic doodlebug I wouldn't even be here!"

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Death Merchant #41: Shamrock Smash

Someone - or some country - is supplying the IRA with all sorts of weaponry and it's up to Richard Camellion (the Death Merchant) to find out who.

Joseph Rosenberger goes into a huge amount of detail about the political/religious situation in Ireland circa 1980 (when this book was written and published). At one point, Camellion is driven around South Belfast in an armoured car with a military official who provides a running commentary/guided tour. (The official also refers to "a certain well-known Irish-American U.S. senator" as a "gasbag", although Rosenberger does not identify Ted Kennedy for another 11 pages. Much later in the book, Rosenberger notes a Death Merchant-led rocket barrage causes the the IRA's "spirits to sink faster than Ted Kennedy's car off Dyke Bridge". Rosenberger also makes a Chappaquiddick wisecrack in the next book, #42.)

The Death Merchant's goal in Shamrock Smash is to get Keenan McGuire, the IRA leader, who is expecting delivery of a big weapon. Camellion and CIA agent Chris McLoughlin first meet with Liam O'Connor, who poses as a diehard Protestant but is feeding info to the British SIS. Through O'Connor they learn about an important Provo base to the north: Lha-Beul-tinne Castle.

So - in what is becoming a serious cliche in this series - Camellion and a British fighting force go off to storm the castle. But McGuire is not there. Through some amazing deductions, Camellion figures out that McGuire - now in possession of a small atomic weapon that was delivered by a Russian submarine - can only escape to the northeast. He takes a wild guess that the only place to hide out is Teamhair na Riogh, "an ancient pagan site [abandoned in 1021] that was supposed to have belonged to the druids". You'd think this might be an historical site, but apparently not, as Camellion orders a helicopter to shell both ends of the large mound with heavy artillery before he and his force of 13 men race inside. McGuire and five others are captured. Facing execution, one of the prisoners blurts out the location of the bomb.

Camellion is extremely sadistic in this book. On two separate occasions, when questioning prisoners/captives and not getting immediate answers, he simply shoots the uncooperating captive dead. In one case, he ties an IRA guy to a pillar and stuffs an L-flare in his waistband. The guy basically burns to death in front of everyone else, as Rosenberger notes the sickening smell of charred flesh, etc. Camellion is not usually so ruthless.

At several points, Camellion is described as something other than human, presumably living on some higher plane. Working under the name Ringgall, Camellion "seemed to have a mystical covenant with death". And as usual, a character "detected a strangeness about Ringgall, an eerie quality he couldn't quite put his finger on, yet the weirdness was there, and it was frightening".

Towards the end, during the final firefight, a thought floats through Camellion's mind:
Silly humans, with their "if only" kind of mortality. It was the fomes peccati of the Latins and the yetzer-ha-ra of the Hebrews. Camellion laughed to himself. Be as gods knowing good and evil, so says the myth. But it forgot to add: capable only of evil when man is left to himself.
In talking about old age, Camellion hints that he knows when he will die:
"It's the same with old folks the world over," Camellion said, thankful that he would never experience the miseries of old age. "It's that constant sense of being superfluous, of being useless, that causes so much depression in the frigid years of life - that and the solitude."

"The young also become depressed," McLoughlin said, "and kill themselves."

Camellion agreed with a nod of his head. "Yes, but generally speaking the young can bear solitude better than the old because passion occupied their thoughts. For the elderly, ailments and anxieties have replaced passions as the only avenue of escape from the melancholy that usually accompanies a retrospective cast of mind."
More deep thoughts from the Death Merchant:
"[Camellion] lay there on his stomach, listening to slugs cut the air several feet above his head, and feeling sorry for the young paratroopers and for Ford, Grimes, and Lieutenant Merriweather. They were all so terrified of death, none of them realizing that it was this "life" that was the only real "death". Once a person learns that life is the transitory illusion - no matter how real it appears during its duration - then he has mastered dying ..."

"Death is not darkness, but light, liberation, and freedom."

"In his own personal philosophy, existing in a three-dimensional continuum (four when one considers time) in a flesh-and-blood-and-bone body was definitely a horse-and-buggy was to travel through the universe."
In a bizarre (and completely superfluous scene), the men witness an apparition, dressed in clothes from the 1700s, descend a partially destroyed staircase, floating on air when coming to the missing steps. He cross the room and disappears through a wall. The men are shocked at this sight, but Camellion matter-of-factly explains what just happened: "We're seeing a memory pattern. ... It all has to do with time and the brain. ... It existed outside of space and time, outside of our time and our space, both of which are relative in our continuum."

At one point, Camellion muses:
A realist knows that every human being is born alone and dies alone. So he never loves anyone or lets anyone love him. He remains an observer, but never becomes one of the observed. ...

Only wise men seek the truth, just as wise men never seek to return to the past and take the risk of excavating forgotten pain while looking for remembered happiness.
Rosenberger has not (to date) provided an origin story for Camellion. We have received no hints about why Camellion does this dangerous work. There has been no mention of a former girlfriend or wife, but it almost sounds like at one time Camellion experienced happiness, but it ended, putting him on the lonely road he now travels, never looking back.

Etc.:

"Seven of the Provos couldn't have asked for more trouble if they had tried to smoke sticks of dynamite for cigars."

"The Irish idiot in the truck ... was attempting to lean around the side of the cab and get a Soviet PPsh41 submachine gun into action, but he didn't even get off to a good start. His head and chest exploded as if a grenade had gone off inside his torso, blood, rib bones, chunks of heart and lungs flying into the spring wind."

"The Provo next to the woman was dusted next, three charges of .24 caliber shot popping him in the left side of his head and shoulder. Head, neck, and shoulder exploded into a pulpy mass of flesh, blood, and bone, his Adam's apple jumping out of his torn-apart throat and hitting the inside of the metal windshield like a bloody ping-pong ball."

"The Death Merchant made up Shannon's mind for him. He used the last bullet in his left auto mag to explode Shannon's head and send blobs of his think machine rocketing in all directions."

"Both more enraged than a hornet with the hiccups, Camellion and McLoughlin fired with precision, never wasting ammo."

"A long, long time ago, he had learned that it was always unrealistic to fight evil with goodness. The trouble with goodness was that it went to bed every night and slept soundly. Evil was an insomniac, forever awake, forever active."

The Death Merchant almost never curses. "Tiger turds!" he exclaims at one point.

The British troops conform to stereotype, saying things like "old chap", "jolly good", "by jove" and "Dash it all, man!", and they beginning sentences with "I say, ...". A general with a Cockney accent remarks, "We'll give them blokes 'ell, we will." Once the fighting is complete, he sums up: "We got them all, we did."

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Eiffel Tower Opened 126 Years Ago!

The Eiffel Tower debuted 126 years ago. It nearly tore Paris apart.

Stephen King: The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)

I can't do it!

I made it to page 60, but I cannot force myself to read any more of the 800+ pages of the seventh and final volume of Stephen King's Dark Tower series.

I don't give a shit what happens to Roland - or any of the other characters - and I don't care what happens when the Ka-tet finally reaches the Dark Tower.

At the start of this project, I considered omitting the entire series because I thought I would not enjoy its fantasy elements. But when I found used hard covers of the later volumes, I decided what the hell. I should have stuck with my original plan.

(P.S. This also means I won't be reading The Wind Through The Keyhole, which was published in 2012 and fits chronologically into the Dark Tower series between Books 4 and 5.)

Next: The Colorado Kid.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Death Merchant #40: Blueprint Invisibility

In October 1943, the United States Navy allegedly made a battleship disappear and reappear hundreds of miles away.

In Blueprint Invisibility, Joseph Rosenberger treats that story - known now as The Philadelphia Experiment - as fact, and has a U.S. agent, mind-controlled by the Red Chinese, steal the top secret file that includes the formula to duplicate the experiment, which "opened the portal to another dimension, another time-continuum or another universe".

In this book, Camellion hangs around the CIA's main headquarters in New York City, which is located on the 12th floor of the Payson Arms, on Payson Avenue in upper Manhattan - a short walk from where I lived for 15 years! (As far as I know, there never was a hotel on that small street.)

The CIA believes that ONI agent Mason Shiptonn, who lifted the file, was somehow seduced by one of the call girls working at Soraya Duncan's escort service; Duncan, who has ties to a couple of New York mobsters, also may be working for the Red Chinese. Camellion, in disguise as a southern gentleman named Jefferson Davis Hafferton, arranges a date with Duncan - and actually ends up in bed with her! Rosenberger, who so far has had no sexual content in the Death Merchant books whatsoever (outside of the DM having a lewd thought every 6-8 books or so), spends four pages on Camellion getting laid!

After surviving a shootout with the mobsters while trying to break into, and grab some files from, Duncan's office, Camellion decides to invade the a 26-room Manhattan brownstone that the Chinese are using as their embassy. They kidnap a few people for possible interrogation and escape in a helicopter, evading the New York police.

After drugging the embassy employees and questioning them for hours, they learn that Chinese scientists are close to finishing a working model of the invisibility device on Chelsworth Island, off the coast of Maine. An all-out assault is planned, with Camellion knowing it's vital that he and his fighting force of SEALs capture Dr. Chou Wen-yaun - a specialist in mind-murder - alive, so they can learn his mind-programming secrets.

During the final battle, we get narration which reads more like Rosenberger's outline than the actual story:
The firing of pistols and submachine guns! Coughing! Then metal clanging against metal! Shouts! Grunts! Groans! Now it was man to man, with neither side having time to reload, even though some of the Chinese and the three American gangsters tried.
Rosenberger also includes about seven pages of intense martial arts fighting - with every twist and turn described to within an inch of its life (including footnotes!):
[Camellion] used a left-elbow Empi stab to wreck the celiac (solar) plexus of Yeh Bo L'ang trying to come in behind him, a high Fumikomi front stamp kick that landed solidly on the sternal angle23 of Wang Wen-hung, one of the top men of the Red Chinese 3rd Bureau in the lab. The pain didn't do anything to Wang Wen-hung. The sudden shock did. It killed him. He was still falling when Camellion used a Mawashi Geri rear roundhouse kick that barely reached Nanki Hiso, who jumped back ... At the same time, as Camellion's left hand shot out to grab the wrist of Liu Ki Cho'i'pi, who was coming at him with a knife, he used his right hand in a very fast Seiken, the blade of the Deadringer slicing through the jugular notch of the man's neck. Blood spurted. Cho'i'pi gurgled, wished he had stayed home in China and started to fall into the final blackness.

23. The sternal angle is the point where the manubrium (the upper part of the breastbone) and the body of the sternum come together, about 2 inches below where the collar bones meet at the base of the throat. This is a weak spot in the sternum, and if attacked with a powerful blow to the "sternal shield" over the heart ... bronchus, lungs and thoracic nerves can be broken, producing intense pain and shock to the circulatory and respiratory systems.

Nanki Hiso, although an expert in Hsing-i and Shaolin - Chinese boxing - was no match for Bill Fieldhouse, who was not only a past master in Pentjak-silat (the national defense form of Indonesia), but an expert in Kun-Tao (Chinese: "fist-way") and in Okinawa Karate-jutsu. ...

[Fieldhouse] let Hiso have a right-legged Patagonian purr-kick, the piston of his foot caving in Hiso's left side and forcing broken ribs to stab into the man's left lung. Fieldhouse began using his legs and feet the way a boxer uses his fists. A blink of an eye! He powed Hiso with a left-legged Ko-ja dynamite kick that landed on the side of the man's head and broke his neck - spun with the speed of a top and kicked another Chinese full in the face, the rubber sole of the coral shoe breaking the goof's jaw, nasal bones and the orbital bones around both eyes. ...

Gene Thompson went to work on the other goon, landing a left-handed Haito ridge-hand chop to the man's right cheek. A right Seiken forefist to the man's stomach. And when Kung Ji Kang doubled over in agony, Thompson finished him off with an expert Tsumi-Saki tip-of-toes strike kick that landed squarely in the middle of Kang's solar plexus. The dog eater would be with his honorable ancestors within a few minutes.
In 1973-74, Rosenberger penned five books of a series called Kung Fu: Featuring Mace, which are apparently extremely light on plot and feature one fight scene after the next after the next after the ... I look forward to reading those later on.

Oops. Rosenberger uses the same phrase within a span of 13 pages:
"... sneered Oscar Yehling, a creep who would have wasted his own mother if the contract price were right." (86)

"He'd kill his own mother if the contract price was right, then lay bets on which way she'd fall." (99)
There is also some good stuff about Camellion, a superman who "could easily get by on as little as four hours sleep" and was "used to thinking in fourteen different languages". ... His breakfast: "black coffee, a small glass of honey, and two vitamin pills." ... Throughout the series, while explaining his seemingly-suicidal attack plans, Camellion often eats dried fruit: in two instances here, he is "eating kumquats and drinking cocoa" and later enjoying "candied apple slices".
"He was something else! There was an unreal unnatural quality about him, a kind of perternaturalism that made one sense he had done this type of covert work many, many times. What made Swain [Camellion's alias] so eerie was that he seemed to understand Death as well as Life."

"[T]here was that strange 'something' about the man named Swain ... a certain chill, a certain type of warning ... something alien there, something that didn't belong."
The Death Merchant is a 5th-degree black belt with "a very personal arrangement with the Cosmic Lord of Death". It is strongly implied that Camellion actually knows the time when he will die. "The Cosmic Lord of Death is active, but He'll stick to his agreement."
Etc.:
"The rap sheets ... were longer than the weekly grocery list for Boys' Town."

"He was an ugly as a ten-car pile-up ..."

One goon gets shot and falls across a desk. "He reminded the Death Merchant of a taco!"
"Gindow's body shuddered from the impact of the big bullet and he slumped dead, a large bloody hole in his lower right chest. He had eaten of bread baked in blackness and had paid the price."
(Joe Kenney of Glorious Trash reviewed Blueprint Invisibility here.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Death Merchant: Fruits & Vegetables


Joseph Rosenberger's action-adventure books of the 1970s and 1980s are known for having pages and pages of intricately-described action - both firearms and martial arts - coupled with a commensurate amount of gore. In reading Rosenberger's Death Merchant series, I've found that he regularly used fruit and vegetables as metaphors in his extremely graphic - and sometimes darkly humourous - descriptions of the carnage a high-velocity slug can produce.

#2: Operation Overkill
"Man, I'd have to be a hermaphrodite to do that," Luther grinned - and put a couple of slugs into St. Clair's head, opening his skull like an overripe peach.
#3: The Psychotron Plot
Trying to draw a bean on Camellion with a pistol that resembled a German Luger, the Egyptian bodyguard looked incredibly alarmed when a couple of the Death Merchant's slugs burst his head like an orange that had been stepped on. Instantly, he found himself in the Mohammedan version of heaven, ogling the virgin Houris and wondering how in hell he had gotten there!
#5: Satan Strike
His best wasn't good enough! The Comité tried, failed and died when a .357 slug parted his Adam's apple like a pear split down the middle!
#6: The Albanian Connection
The Death Merchant's first two slugs knifed into the white-coated morons to his left. One slug opened its victim's head like a tomato hit with a ten-pound sledge hammer, while the second caught its man in his open mouth, blowing out the back of his throat and neck.
#7: The Castro File
He was about to make a success of the yell when he flopped over dead from the three slugs which had crushed his skull like a rotten tomato, exposing the convoluted windings of his brain ... some pink, others grayish blue.

There were no screams, but bone, blood, teeth, and bits of brains exploded with all the force of a rotten watermelon dropped from the top of the Empire State Building!

His face twisting in panic, the KGB agent raised up, just as another tornado of slugs hit the windshield, this time shattering it, several of the slugs blowing the driver's head apart, like a melon hit with a bust of shotgun pellets!
#8: Billionaire Mission
The stream of hot metal flowed all over Captain Weidamier, bursting him open like a watermelon that has lain too long in the boiling sun ... Yumio Nama followed a moment later. Cursing in Japanese, Yum-Yum lifted the Ar-16 rifle with amazing speed and snapped off two shots at Camellion, who jumped sideways and triggered the .45 M-3, the shower of slugs raining all over the Jap jackass, turning him into instant sukiyaki, but without the chicken and vegetables.
#9: The Laser War
The third man caught the third slug in his forehead, the steel opening up his skull and splitting his brain the way an axe would cleave a melon!
#11: Manhattan Wipeout
He blinked, look surprised, and fell on his back, his eyes wide open, a hole the size of a bean in the middle of his forehead. The back of his head resembled a burst pomegranate ...
#12: The KGB Frame
Dyudin's head exploded from the impact of the Super-Vel .357 slug that split open his skull like a watermelon kicked by an angry mule.
#13: The Mato Grosso Horror
Walther submachine guns roared! A 9mm slug caught Stein in the left hip. Five more hit him in the stomach and almost cut him in two! Three more opened up his chest and split his skull the way a macana would chop apart a kisva melon!
#14: Vengeance of the Golden Hawk
Kaouki died faceless and brainless. The Death Merchant's chain of 7.65mm slugs exploded his head, which flew apart like a rotten melon.
#15: The Iron Swastika Plot
The Death Merchant checked the luminous dials of his depth gauge - 492 feet. The E.P.E. and I.P.E. were working perfectly - Or I'd be dead! Crushed to death by water pressure - like an orange in a vice!
#17: The Zemlya Expedition
Bogaty's 7.62 mm slug burned very close to Camellion, but the big Russian didn't get a second chance to ice Camellion. His skull popped open like an overripe orange as Richard's two 9mm pieces of steel stabbed into his forehead and scattered his think-tank in assorted directions.
#19: Armageddon, USA!
Knowing that Kane's next smash would shatter his skill like an already cracked eggshell, Boggs pulled the Auto Burglar from underneath his coat ... The 20-gauge shell exploded, the weapon whoomed, and the charge blew a hole in Kane's midsection the size of a grapefruit.

One man caught several slugs in the face; the high-velocity steel erased his features, popped apart his skull like a cucumber hit by a sledge hammer and scattered his brain within a radius of two feet ...

McAulay's second P-38 Walther slug caught Teague far down in the left side of the neck, almost to the collarbone. Ordinarily a man so full of energy that he could hardly sit still, Teague dropped his two S&W automatics, his face looking as if his neck were trying to blow bubblegum!
#20: Hell in Hindu Land
Thinking that the coast was clear, Gitanjali shouted, "DON'T FIRE, MADHU! I'M COMING TOWARD YOU!" and began running toward the end of the cube, at the same moment that Suslev leaned around the right end of the parallelogram and stitched Dutt with a burst of 7.62mm slugs that splattered Madhu like a squashed melon against the side of the cube.

There was a big wooommmmm! A .44 JMP bullet hit Bublik between the eyes and exploded his skull the way a stick of dynamite would blow apart a head of cabbage!
#21: The Pole Star Secret
At the sight of the Death Merchant, two of the Russians stared at him as if petrified while the woman yelled "There are -" into the phone a fraction of a second before a .44 Jurras Hollow Pointed bullet bored into her temple and exploded her head like an overly ripe watermelon.

Neither man had a chance to fire. There were more tremendous BOOMs from the twin Auto Mags and two thudding sounds as though someone had hit a melon with a hammer. Camellion had split open the two skulls of the Russians, scattering their brains and head bones all over the place. Definitely an untidy mess!
#24: The Kronos Plot
The weapon sounded like a hand grenade; yet because of the Mag-Na-Ported barrel, there was very little muzzle climb and no loss in muzzle velocity. Proof was the man in the doorway. Very suddenly he was without a head. The .44 Magnum jacketed soft-point projectile had exploded his skull like a grapefruit hit by a blast from a double-barreled shotgun.

A stupid look fell over the German's face. The .44 Magnum projectile blew a hole in his chest the size of a grapefruit, tore out his back, and ripped all the way through six sacks of what could have been some of A&P's best coffee.
#25: The Enigma Project
Again the AMP in the Death Merchant's hand boomed like a cannon. There was a sickening plop, the kind of sound that resembled a sledgehammer hitting the side of a pumpkin. The man trying to raise the automatic rifle was suddenly without a face and without a rifle.

Borodin tensed, his ruddy face, harsh and furrowed, becoming hard when Camellion said, "Now, pig farmer, we are going to have a truth and tell-all session." The Russian's face seemed to swell, as though it might burst like an overripe tomato.
#26: The Mexican Hit
Unconscious from the terrific impact of the bullet, the ugly-faced mobster dropped the .41, fell against one of the stateroom doors and sagged to the floor. With a hole in him the size of a grapefruit, Catura was only a few seconds from infinity.
#28: Nipponese Nightmare
Domei Mutsu was a man of courage welcoming his own death. He did make a feeble attempt to grab Brown's throat with a herbasami inside-ridge-hand squeeze, but Brown stepped back, jerked heavily on Mutsu's left arm, and, with his left foot, kicked the man between the legs, the end of his foot crushing the scrotum the way a sledge hammer would flatten a walnut.
#34: Operation Mind-Murder
One of the Death Merchant's Auto Mags roared and the head of the KGB man exploded with the kind of sound a hammer makes when it hits a watermelon.
#37: The Bermuda Triangle Action
In a low crouch, the Death Merchant fired the AMP and the Ingram. A swarm of 9mm Ingram projectiles erased Jose Matar's face and popped open his skull like a lemon hit by a blast from a double-barrelled shotgun.